Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hunt in Shanghai

Book 44: Hunt Among The Killers of Men by Gabriel Hunt, as told to David J. Schow, isbn 9780843962567, 265 pages, Leisure Adventure, $6.99

The fifth of six projected Gabriel Hunt adventures finds our man Hunt in Shanghai and nearby, searching for a missing friend of his younger sister, hoping to find her before she can get revenge on the Chinese mobster who killed her own sister. This being a Hunt adventure, some sort of ancient treasure or ancient legend must come into play. This time it is the legendary Killers of Men -- the terra-cotta army of Chinese warlord Kangxi Shih-K'ai which is supposed to include the warlord's entombed body.

Hunt books are always a thrill-ride. This one is no exception. There are a number of "set-piece action sequences" that you can easily picture being in the next Bourne or Salt movie. Where previous Hunt installments felt like "Indiana Jones in the modern era" thanks to most of the objects being sought having mythological qualities (the fountain of youth, sphinxes, a city under the polar ice cap), this book felt more like a modern spy thriller thanks to the treasure being of more recent vintage and less mystical (the statues are needed for purely mundane, gangster-war reasons). In fact, I didn't realize how heavily I was expecting things to take a supernatural bend until the final end-gambit started and I realized there would be no actual supernatural event this time. "Co-author" David J. Schow actually writes a bit against type here. He's known for horror, especially splatterpunk, and for the scripts for various slasher flick franchises. I expected a more horror-based story and was pleasantly surprised to get this spy-thriller instead. The action sequences fly fast and furious, the dialogue is pretty snappy. Another change from previous Hunt books: there are almost as many scenes without Gabriel as there are with. Schow takes full advantage of his movie script experience to write a Hunt book that really feels like it's ready to be a movie: high on action, decent on character, low on CGI needs.

Characterization is always present at some level. Over the course of five books Gabriel, his brother Michael, and even their sister Lucy, have all been drawn well. At first Gabriel and Michael were fairly stock -- if Gabe was Indy, Michael was a young Marcus Brody; if Gabe is Doc Savage, Michael is Renny. Lucy appears not at all in the first few books, and we don't get too much of her personality in the one book before this that she's a main part of. Schow uses her sparingly, but gives us more of her personality and more of her relationship with Gabriel (although notably not with Michael) from when they were kids. Series editor Charles Ardai also smartly lets Schow add some detail to the mystery of the Missing Hunt Parents. Ambrose and Cordelia Hunt have been missing since a mass disappearance off of an ocean liner on the eve of "the millenium," and we learn a little bit about what they were investigated prior to that cruise in this tale. Schow also gives us the requisite Hunt femme fatales / damsels in distress, but puts a welcome different spin on them.

So, final verdict: if the more Indiana Jones stylings of the earlier books in the series were not your thing, give KILLERS OF MEN a try and I think you'll enjoy it. And if those earlier stylings were your thing -- well, variety is the spice of life, and it's good for series characters to have their adventures break from the formula occasionally!

There is one more Hunt book left, HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON'S WEB, due out in a few months. With the closing of Dorchester Publishing's mass market paperback division, it seems that the final Gabriel Hunt will be out in e-reader format only at first. But Charles Ardai has vowed that it will come out, and in print eventually. I'm hopefully the last book will bring more details on what happened to the Hunt parents.

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